Democrats have made it a practice to strip committee assignments from Members under federal investigation, but then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to struggle to force lawmakers to resign their seats.
Republicans said Lee’s speedy resignation this week was in the best interest of the Conference because had he stuck around it would have distracted from the agenda and sent a signal that improper behavior is tolerated.
“By making a high-profile example of him, it sends a message to the whole Conference,” said Stuart Roy, a former GOP leadership aide and partner at Prism Public Affairs.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said Lee’s decision to step down was the right one: “I think he handled it appropriately.”
Freshman Rep. David Schweikert said Lee “gets some credit for understanding he had to go away.”
“If he was encouraged to resign right away, they did the right thing,” the Arizona Republican said of leadership.
Schweikert acknowledged that previous ethical scandals — including that of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was affiliated with several prominent Republican Members — had left the GOP skittish.
“I think that’s why everyone is so sensitive that this is unacceptable,” he said.
But Schweikert said Republicans had learned lessons from the Abramoff era.
“There was no lingering. There was no debating and arguing. Gone in a day is not too bad,” he said.
Likewise, Rep. Allen West said he was happy that Lee’s indiscretions were not left to fester.
“We have a lot of ethical issues with the Democrats, and at least we kind of take care of our own,” the Florida Republican said.
Boehner has shown he isn’t afraid to confront his Members. Last summer, he was quick to individually address some of his colleagues after an embarrassing interaction involving Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and a woman at the Capitol Hill Club became public. Boehner, according to sources familiar with the talks, spoke separately to Members with whom he had concerns to tell them that their behavior was a “distraction” from the party’s goal of taking back the House.
Several Republican strategists, however, noted that it’s not always an easy call when it comes to handling the ethics of Members.
Boehner has already given some leeway to embattled freshman Rep. David Rivera.
The Florida Republican is under investigation by local law enforcement for allegations that he failed to report $130,000 in loans from a company owned by his mother. Rivera has said that he has since repaid the loans.
Boehner said at a press conference in late January that the allegations against Rivera did not involve his Congressional service and that “we need to see how this plays out.”
Republican aides and lobbyists said Boehner has been smart to say that he would deal with ethics issues on a case-by-case basis.
“There has to be some understanding that things are not always as simple as black and white,” said John Feehery, a former GOP leadership aide and president of Quinn Gillespie Communications. “A lot of other Members get unfairly accused; there’s angry ex-wives, ex-employees.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.